We left La Castella (mainland Italy) at 0300hrs and motored 11 hours through very lumpy seas to Syracusa in Sicily where we met up with Dave and Jenny on ALEXES. We anchored in a large sheltered bay. We hired a car and went inland to a town called Noto. It’s renowned for its baroque architecture and is supposedly the finest baroque town in Sicily.
Having spent five days in Syracusa we headed for Taormina. Its almost a perfectly preserved medieval town perched on what appears to be almost a vertical cliff face and it is overlooked by the mighty Mt. Etna. The town seems very wealthy with several Italian designer shops selling clothes, bags and shoes. It’s nothing here to pay 350euros for the flimsiest pair of sandals. I can’t even talk about the price of the bags! Everybody carries a big handbag and they’re usually Gucci or Prada….and they are not fakes – the bigger the bag the higher the status.
You can’t come here without going on a tour to Mt. Etna. She is 3350m and dominates the landscape of eastern Sicily. (thats when she isn’t shrouded in haze) Etna is Europes largest volcano and one of the worlds most active. Eruptions occur frequently, the last one occurred in 2002. She smokes all day and glows all night
Our tour started 1500hrs and we went by coach to the height of 1923m then transferred to 4wheel drives to near the summit. The jeeps dropped us off and we made our way down skirting the edge of several huge craters. We were picked up after about an hour decent and taken to near the summit. That was an awesome sight. It was just after sunset. The lava was flowing and there were several hot spots where we were standing You could warm your hands by the smoking rocks. It was bitterly cold and there were shelves of thick snow covered in black ash. We couldn’t get over the extremes in temperature. We arrived back in Taormina around midnight – a long day but one not to be forgotten.
From there we moved north of Sicily to the Aeolian Islands. The islands are volcanoes two of which are active. One of the islands, or volcanoes, is called Stromboli and is referred to as the oldest lighthouse in the Med. It rises 925m and is in a continuous state of activity. It releases its pressure bit by bit day and night, unlike Etna who saves herself up for years and then explodes. There is no bus up to Stromboli and it is a very arduous walk not recommended for the unfit so Peter was the only one of us who fit the criteria! Jenny, Dave and myself went around to the west slope where all the activity is and watched the fireworks from the sea. It was spectacular. From the top of the crater Pete said the noise was thunderous and the power which forced the mountain to spew the magma from its bowels was totally awesome. It will certainly go down as one of the highlights of the trip. On the opposite side of the volcano is a very brave little township.
When we left early next morning; not quite sun up, and before it got too hazy, we had a magnificent view of thick red smoke at the mouth of the crater. Although we couldn’t see the magma coming out we could certainly here the explosions. Unforgettable.
Next stop Sardinia!!